Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Nothing's Sacred

I've been following the news about the Palo Alto Children's Theater (where Sam first met my shoes), and the investigation into alleged "financial irregularities" (the police won't get any more specific, although the investigation has been going on for months).

The theater was closed for about a week, but reopened on Monday after theater director Pat Briggs and assistant director Michael Litfin (two fixtures of Sam's and my adolescence) were placed on administrative leave by the City of Palo Alto.

Meanwhile, Michael is in Stanford Hospital with terminal stomach cancer, and is not looking too good at the moment.

This sucks.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Killing Joke

No, not the band. The Batman Graphic novel. I thought it an appropriate title for today's post, seeing as how we are mourning the talented young actor who was about to ignite the Batman franchise in the best way.

As much as I love the Batman character, the key to his psychology is the villains he faces, and none more important than the Joker - the classic self-created arch nemesis. And after the comic buffoonery of Caesar Romero and the Shakespearean menace of Jack Nicholson, the prospect of watching a seriously psychopathic Joker (a living version of the craziness Mark Hamill had voiced in the animated incarnations of recent years) was thrilling. Well, production is finished and the film is in post, and once again I will join my geek brethren in a darkened theater and watch with shivers down my neck as Heath Ledger fires it up. Much like I did watching Brandon Lee in The Crow almost 15 years ago. Much like watching Stand By Me or Rebel Without a Cause does for me now.

The tragedy of a life lost so early is the loss of potential - the what ifs that life brought with it, and took away when it was gone. That goes for anyone, from troubled rock stars to enigmatic writers to a young wife with cancer.

The first time I took notice of Ledger was in the short-lived historically-bollocks-but-well-executed Celtic fantasy TV series Roar. He had that River Phoenix intensity matched with smoldering good looks that all too often indicates a candle burning twice as brightly. I watched him play opposite Mel Gibson in the overwrought The Patriot (and thought he was the best thing in the film), and thought he did a remarkable job with a complete mess of a movie in A Knight's Tale. Once again, he showed up as the best thing in The Brothers Grimm, and then exploded everybody's brain with roles opposite Billy Bob Thornton in Monster's Ball and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain. Finally he was getting offered some substantial quality roles, I thought.

Roles like the Joker don't happen along every day. Coupled with the danger of typecasting, there is, on the other hand, the potential for an actor to really put one's stamp on a cultural icon. I'm sure his performance will be amazing, given what's already being shown in the trailer. But henceforth, the shivery neck thing will always be a part of the experience.

Cheers, Heath. We hardly knew ye.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Edmund Kenneth Downing (1908-1984)

The following are just one man's memories of his beloved grandfather - I do not seek to deify the man, for there is truly no need, and it would have made him uncomfortable to do so. My experience was possibly (and probably) different than that of my older relations who were raised in his presence. The photographs of Ken, my father and myself were each taken about age 18.

I would like to thank my aunt Kendra for the reminder: today would have been my grandfather Ken's 100th birthday. I daresay it's worthy of note. I had a great rapport with that man, and he was taken far too young (72). He taught me a lot about the history of California, told me of growing up in the days before cars were commonplace, of learning to ride a horse before he could walk. I painted a picture of his horse, Pawnee, which he'd described to me as a child. I framed it and gave it to him one Christmas when I was about 6. Through his eyes I saw San Jose, Los Gatos and the Almaden Valley before it became Silicon Valley. When there were still open cow pastures and orchards, before concrete, condos and strip malls covered the alluvial soil of the South Bay.

In those bygone days of agrarian California, Ken parlayed ranching knowhow into a successful poultry operation in San Jose, and helped develop not only coin operated egg vending machines but refrigerated dairy cases for Safeway. He "retired" to run the family real estate business, operating rental properties and trailer parks.

Never let it be said that he was intractable when it came to changing times. He fell in step with 1970s fashion, donning polyester suits and a perm in his sixties. His house had solar panels for heating and water. He traveled around the world, bringing back tribal art from Africa and Java and Australia. He exposed us to different cultures and traditions. Whether his behavior was different in his younger years I do not know, but by the time I came along, he was a gentle, jovial man, and I never heard a racial slur from his mouth, despite their common use among his generation. What's more, while my grandmother was rather free with corporal punishment, Ken never raised his hand to me (or my siblings or cousins, so far as I know). He was quick with a hug and a story, or a trip to the ice cream parlor.

Some in my family have hidden less-than-pious behaviors behind a facade of piety, but Ken was one of the most honestly devout people I've ever known. He never played holier-than-thou, never cast aspersions on others, never tried to convert someone from existing beliefs. We had many conversations on the nature of God and the Universe, and I found he was non-judgmental and even shared many of my own beliefs and concepts. Despite a somewhat simple exterior, he had a sharp, progressive mind - although he never could tell a joke worth a damn; he'd always mess up the punchline.

After triple bypass surgery in the early '80s, he seemed to be going strong, but his ticker finally gave out. In a sea of family chaos and rampant dysfunction, Ken was one of the buoys I clung to for stability. Interesting that no sooner did he die than I moved to Palo Alto and met this girl in theater class that fall. Another buoy? Perhaps. At any rate, had Edmund Kenneth Downing and his eldest son, Edmund Maben Downing, not existed, Todd Edmund Downing would not be writing this salute. Fair winds and following seas, you sailors and explorers of eternity. My love and gratitude go with you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Thanks and apologies to Stan Lee.

There are occasional moments of absolute clarity in life, if one is open to receiving them. Monday morning, although I'd not had a lot of sleep, I awoke filled with an indescribable sensation of creative potential. Total confidence in my abilities and my new path. It seemed as though finishing the Requiem CD was another step in getting my muse back. A huge step. In a sense, a memorial project is an obligation - a creative obligation, but an obligation nonetheless. It was an obligation I constructed for myself; Sam did not require it of me. I committed to that memorial out of my own heart - a want or need to honor her memory and contribution to the musical collective unconscious.

And it feels wonderful to let it go. Like, "there it is - it can sink or swim on its own - it doesn't need me anymore..." And I know Sam is grooving to it already, on whichever spiritual plane she currently resides. And honestly, that was the primary reason for doing it.

Tyler has been referred to the Swedish Hospital sleep study center for evaluation. We should hear from them soon. Counseling went well yesterday. Joe is starting to work more with the kids on their grief "stuff". I told him to focus on them, as I have a plethora of outlets for mine. Did I just say "plethora"?

The top-secret short film project with the well-known genre actress has become a top-secret short film project AND a music video. Still figuring out to get that done in a very compact amount of time.

Helping my erstwhile writing partner Mack with the development of a TV pilot. It's a really good concept. Meanwhile I've enlisted game designer and freelance writer Jason Sinclair to help finish the RADZ game. JD and I decided to go graphic novel format for the finished book, and have found what appears to be a really great POD house specializing in comics.

And of course, Duo is being scheduled and budgeted for financing.

Exciting times. I'm exhausted, but learning to just calmly release to the muse and let it flow, and that brings a lot of energy back to me. A mysterious feedback loop of creative force.

Glowing brightly...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Speaking of Requiems...

I was thinking of all the friends and family members I've known who have left this place. The ones who had a huge impact on my life. My brother Matt. My uncle Doug. My grandpa Ken. My wife Samantha. My father. And because it's how I'm wired, music always comes to mind. A specific piece of music that contains all the love for them, the sorrow of missing them, and the serenity of knowing that everything exists in a perfect continuum.

This piece is from the live concert album Dead Can Dance released, containing material from their 1994 tour. The tour which Sam & I saw (as a wedding anniversary gift), front row center. I don't know what sonic resonance Lisa Gerrard employs to uniquely trigger all manner of emotional response, but this music shattered me when I first heard it live, and it has NEVER failed to do so every time since. It is more emotional than Tallis and Barber combined, perhaps because Lisa adds the contents of her soul, singing in no language at all - simply a beautiful and tragic expression raw emotion. It is simultaneously the most primal and the most sublime sound I have heard - at least, that's how it affects me.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

First Post of 2008

Well, the holidays were a mixed bag. Mostly good, with occasional showers of melancholy. Recently watched The Holiday with Kayleigh, and of course we both identified with Jude Law's character - the widowed dad with two kids trying to find an identity that wasn't necessarily "daddy" or "Mr. Napkin Head". As saccharin as a lot of that script was, I totally got his character. Like him or not, Law does an amazing job making even the most mundane material come alive. And Eli Wallach is STILL amazing.

I guess the big news is that And Tears Fell - REQUIEM is finished. Once Muriel sends me her recent headshot for inclusion in the CD art, it's off to the replicator. I did a couple test burns of the master on Tuesday, and the second one sounded perfect. It feels good to check that project off the list, especially as a tribute that's taken 3 years to produce. Here you go, Sam. The music we made together, aged and remade with love, by people you loved. I'm not 100% happy with my vocals, but I realize it's more about the honesty and the message than the technical perfection. Fortunately, Muriel sings on most of it.

I'm going digipak format (almost totally cardboard CD case), as it's more eco-friendly, containing 60% less plastic than traditional jewel cases. The same folks who did the Ordinary Angels DVD run will handle this CD run for me.

Duo is pretty much in preproduction at this point. I've put producers Sally and Dan together, and things seemed to click, so that's good. Speaking of Dans, OA editor Dan Humphrey just shot his new short, starring Eric Riedmann - can't wait to see it! I think I am going to have to put the top secret short on hold until Deathtrap closes in April. That should still give us enough time to edit and get it done before Emerald City on the weekend of May 10th.

Prepping Deathtrap. Schedule is done, already have my set designer working on the design of the Breuhl study. This will be fun.

I've decided to postpone my trip to Scotland until summer 2009, given that we may well be in the midst of Duo production in summer '08. Besides most tours need to be booked several months in advance. This will give us a bit more time to plan.

Hitting the ground running in 2008...